Monsanto's claim that GM crops will end Third World hunger is spurious, says Joan Ruddock

comment

WHEN Monsanto decided to fight growing resistance to its genetically modified foods, it adopted the advertising slogan "Food - Health - Hope". Its message to stroppy European consumers was that our selfish concerns were holding back the means of ending world hunger. It is a seductive message. Those of us who campaign for more wholesome, safer food for ourselves are hardly likely to condemn others to continuing starvation. So could it be that what we consider bad for "us" is good for "them"?

The purported benefits of genetically modified crops include higher yields, resistance to pesticides and pests and delayed spoilage times - a combination of factors that would surely meet the needs of the hungry. This presupposes that shortage of food is the problem. It is not. More than enough food is already produced.

People starve because they are too poor to buy food, because they are denied access to land to grow it, or because they are displaced by civil unrest and war. Genetically modified crops are irrelevant where the structural issues of hunger are inequitable access to and distribution of food. Indeed, there is no evidence that current genetic engineering of crops is directed at solving Third World hunger. The two main crops being grown commercially in the US are soy beans and maize. The bulk of both crops is used as animal feed - providing meat for the well fed while, worldwide, two out of three people have a primarily vegetarian diet. Claims of altruism may be misplaced, but this doesn't mean that food producers and distributors of GMO (genetically modified organisms) are disinterested in the developing world.

Far from it. There are huge financial interests at stake, not least in supplying Western consumer markets. This linkage has profound implications for developing countries, their farmers and environment. Without any significant direct benefit to the host population, the growing of GM crops in developing countries will present social and economic burdens in addition to the environmental threat.

Genetically modified seeds with "technology protection systems" - the terminator genes - are a prime example. Designed to produce but not reproduce, these seeds are a direct challenge to traditional agriculture where the farmers harvest and store their seed for replanting. Not only would farmers lose the freedom of independent crop breeding and seed exchange; they would have to purchase expensive seeds from the biotech companies. Such controls would further marginalise poorer farmers, leading to increased homogenisation of crops and consolidation of land.

Superficially the herbicide-resistant crop looks a better prospect for the developing world. Paradoxically it reinforces farmers' dependence on chemicals and undermines efforts to use more sustainable forms of agriculture. The same risks - of uncontrollable releases of GMOs, of creating super weeds or "natural" crop failures - are faced by developing countries.

These issues will be on the international agenda in Colombia this week, when 170 nations negotiate the final stages of the international Biosafety Protocol intended to regulate movement between countries of GMOs and their products. Public opinion is forcing European governments to act on GMOs at home, but even more critical is the stance we take internationally.

An effective protocol must give states the right to apply the precautionary principal when deciding whether or not to allow the import, introduction, transfer, handling or use of GMOs or their products within their territory. Similarly all states should be able to take full account of socio-economic impact within their territory when taking decisions on GMOs and their products.

These rights might seem obvious but they are directly opposed by the biotech industries and without them countries attempting to ban GMOs fall foul of free trade laws.

Also at issue in Colombia is the question of liability. No international legal framework exists to deal with these new technologies, and developing countries in particular are calling for a fair liability and compensation system.

Fears about the effect of GMOs on human health are reaching fever pitch The re-evaluation of Arpad Pusztai's work on feeding GM potatoes to rats, will give even greater impetus to the campaign to freeze commercial production of GM crops for both human and animal consumption. It would be appalling if we who have the best science, regulatory regimes and resources were to take steps to protect ourselves but fail to hear the concerns of developing countries.

The writer is a botanist and Labour MP for Lewisham, Deptford.

Baroness Young, page 30

News
Denny Miller in 1959 remake of Tarzan, the Ape Man
people
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl despairs during the arena auditions
tvX Factor review: Drama as Cheryl and Simon spar over girl band

News
Piers Morgan tells Scots they might not have to suffer living on the same island as him if they vote ‘No’ to Scottish Independence
news
News
i100Exclusive interview with the British analyst who helped expose Bashar al-Assad's use of Sarin gas
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Angel Di Maria celebrates his first goal for Manchester United against QPR
Football4-0 victory is team's first win under new manager Louis van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
art
News
newsIn short, yes
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script
tv'Thomas comes right up to the abyss', says the actor
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris claimed the top spot in this week's single charts
music
Sport
BoxingVideo: The incident happened in the very same ring as Tyson-Holyfield II 17 years ago
News
Groundskeeper Willie has backed Scottish independence in a new video
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor poses the question of whether we are every truly alone in 'Listen'
tvReview: Possibly Steven Moffat's most terrifying episode to date
News
i100
Life and Style
Cara Delevigne at the TopShop Unique show during London Fashion Week
fashion
News
The life-sized tribute to Amy Winehouse was designed by Scott Eaton and was erected at the Stables Market in Camden
peopleBut quite what the singer would have made of her new statue...
Sport
England's Andy Sullivan poses with his trophy and an astronaut after winning a trip to space
sport
News
peopleThe actress has agreed to host the Met Gala Ball - but not until 2015
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Teaching Assistant for KS1 & KS2 Huddersfield

£50 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We are looking for flexible and i...

Teaching Assistant for KS1 & KS2 Huddersfield

£50 - £65 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: We are looking for flexible and...

Primary Teaching Supply

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Supply Teacher r...

Year 1/2 Teacher

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Teacher required,...

Day In a Page

These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week
The fall of Rome? Cash-strapped Italy accused of selling its soul to the highest bidder

The fall of Rome?

Italy's fears that corporate-sponsored restoration projects will lead to the Disneyfication of its cultural heritage
Glasgow girl made good

Glasgow girl made good

Kelly Macdonald was a waitress when she made Trainspotting. Now she’s taking Manhattan
Sequins ahoy as Strictly Come Dancing takes to the floor once more

Sequins ahoy as Strictly takes to the floor once more

Judy Murray, Frankie Bridge and co paired with dance partners
Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Alexander Wang pumps it up at New York Fashion Week
The landscape of my imagination

The landscape of my imagination

Author Kate Mosse on the place that taught her to tell stories